Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Grogan’s

Toasties and pints at Grogan'sThis week, we are journeying to one of those ‘needs no introduction’ pubs that’s simply part of the fabric here in Dublin, and sometimes, you just need a pint and a toastie. And so, to Grogan’s.

While the cash-only policy is, thankfully, gone, everything else is old-school in the right way. The slightly scuffed, but art-covered walls, the jumbled stools and tables, the mix of regulars and tourists and the just-right toasties that go perfectly with your pint are all present and accounted for. While Grogan’s – more correctly, Grogan’s Castle Lounge – has been a pub since 1899, the present incarnation has been going strong since the 1970s, when it became a renowned literary haunt for the likes of Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien. And while its old-school cred is very much deserved, it’s a progressive sort of old-school: Grogan’s was one of the first pubs in Dublin that served women without a fuss – and if you haven’t picked up Ali Dunworth’s recent book, A Compendium of Irish Pints, well…you should! It’s a fascinating look at the many nuances of ‘pints’ here in Ireland, and the relevant section here on how Grogan’s led the way on ‘allowing’ women to drink pints (rather than half-pints, or ‘glasses’ as they are more usually known here) IN FULL VIEW OF MALE CUSTOMERS…it was a whole thing! We also had Ali on the Beer Ladies Podcast in the season we just wrapped up, so do give a listen.

The colourful lightbox with regulars' faces on the wall at Grogan'sAnd, speaking of podcasts, there’s an entire episode of Three Castles Burning dedicated to Grogan’s, and it is very much worth your time; Donal Fallon’s always-excellent podcast is required listening for anyone visiting or living in Dublin, and it’s a fascinating story. You know when a pub has generated this much affection over the years, there’s likely a reason for it.

And while I personally tend to go to quieter pubs most of the time, it’s hard to beat Grogan’s for people-watching (inside or outside), and it’s an ideal place to meet someone as it’s so central. The toastie (with or without ham – your choice) is a perfect quick bite, and it’s especially welcome in this part of town, where the options are pricier/larger sit-down meals or the odd packet of crisps. Beer-wise, there’s obviously plenty of Guinness on offer (both full-fat and 0.0), plus O’Hara’s as a local craft choice, and there is also Beamish, Murphy’s and the lesser-spotted draught Harp (at least here in Dublin – it’s much more common in Belfast), along with the usual macro suspects.

While it’s rare to find any empty seats, Grogran’s is also the kind of pub where if you simply wait a bit, something may open up, or you may be invited to join an existing party and have a chat. You may as well…

Where: 15 William St S, Dublin 2, D02 H336
Access from the city centre: You are very central
Food: Toasties
Sport: Only verbal gymnastics
TVs: No
Music: Not here
Family-friendliness: You do see kids brought in as tourists, but it’s awfully crowded for them; still, toasties!
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Long Hall, The Hairy Lemon, Caribou, Peter's Pub, Sinnot's Bar and Bar Rua are all within stumbling distance, with many more beyond
Local sites of note: George’s Street Arcade, Gaiety Theatre, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty, Craft Central (IYKYK)
Haunted: No well-known stories, but surely, at least a few old regulars would like to return…
Other notes: Grogan’s is open from 10.30 am, so you can always beat the crowds with a mid-morning tea
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Bull & Castle

Gargoyle friend at The Bull & CastleBack in the day – you know, the late aughts to the mid-2010s – Ireland had very little going on from a craft beer perspective, especially compared to its neighbour across the Irish sea, or the larger one on the other side of the bigger body of water. And yet, a small-but-dedicated group of beer enthusiasts and homebrewers used to regularly meet and exchange notes at the subject of this week’s entry: The Bull & Castle.

While these days, the craft beer coterie tends to gather at The Underdog, there’s still plenty to enjoy at The Bull & Castle, and some amazing steak, to boot. Also: bonus ghost content! Well, dodgy ghost content, but surely, one expects nothing less. There is a literary connection, in any case, but it’s neither James Joyce nor Brendan Behan; it isn’t even Yeats!

The upstairs bar at The Bull & CastleBut back to the pub itself: The Bull & Castle is very much ‘sleek steakhouse with taxidermy and statuary’ downstairs, and if you’re simply looking for the bar, you need to head up the stairs. But before you do, it’s worth noting that the steak is top-notch; it’s part of the FX Buckley family, and if you are a meat-eater who hasn’t had their steak, well…you should probably get on that, whether at The Bull & Castle or one of their other locations around Dublin. Upstairs, there is also excellent food, but also a more pub-like atmosphere. There are a variety of local craft beer options: on my most recent visit, some Trouble, lots of O’Hara’s choices (also in bottles downstairs), including the house pale ale, The White Hag and others, plus a wider selection of ciders than you typically find in most places around town. It can feel a bit hidden, since you don't enter into the main bar right from the street as in so many other pubs, but that can add to the charm as well.

A goat friend downstairs at The Bull & CastleAnd, of course, there’s the aforementioned literary connection and ghost story. Poet James Clarence Mangan, whose bust can be seen watching over St Stephen’s Green, was born in a house on the site of The Bull & Castle, and legend has it that he makes his presence (absence?) known via cold spots and a melancholy atmosphere. Now, why he does this in the current building, which is not in any meaningful way the one in which he was born, merely on the same site, is a question for any passing mediums, but it’s a fun story. Regular visitors to my expanded universe will know we recently interviewed buildings archaeologist Dr James Wright on the Beer Ladies Podcast, and this connection certainly seems like one worth both revisiting for some mythbusting, as well as digging into for more concrete evidence – it’s entirely likely many other interesting stories could be unearthed as well.

While the street-level steakhouse feels more like an ‘occasion’ restaurant, don’t sleep on the bar upstairs; it’s a lovely spot with a lot of interesting history, both in recent events from a craft beer perspective, as well as of the more ‘shrouded in myth’ variety.

Where: 5-7 Lord Edward St, Dublin 2, D02 P634
Access from the city centre: Buses 27, 77A, 150, 151, 11-ish minute walk
Food: All the good steak, other smaller options in the upstairs bar
Sport: Big events
TVs: Some discreet televisions upstairs
Music: Jazzy downstairs, more chill vibes upstairs
Family-friendliness: All the FX Buckley steak places are great with families
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Lord Edward, The Christchurch Inn, Tailor’s Hall, The Beer Temple/The Oak are all more or less in one direction, with The Thomas House, Love Tempo, Dudley’s, Swift, Arthur's and other Liberties spots (including a certain Guinness Storehouse) in the other; The Brazen Head is also a short walk away
Local sites of note: Christchurch Cathedral, Dublinia, St Audoen's Church, Guinness Storehouse, Vicar Street, Olympia Theatre, Dublin Castle
Haunted: Mangan likes the cold? Sure, why not?
Other notes: The side door going straight upstairs doesn’t always seem to be open, but when it is, it’s a welcome sight
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Caribou

A glass of beer, a candle and a cocktail menu at Caribou

After a bit of an unplanned break, we are back, and this week, we are heading into the city centre to check out Caribou – the new bar from the Animal Collective folk that has recently opened in the former P Mac’s spot. The recent spate of Galway Bay pub closures/rebrandings, including Against the Grain and BRÚ House Fairview (now The Strand House) has not boded well for Dublin-based craft beer fans; most of the re-opened pubs have had zero or, at best, one craft tap remaining; the shift from The Beer Market to The Christchurch Inn is – so far – the only relaunch bucking that apparent trend.

While P Mac’s was not part of the Galway Bay family – its sister pubs include Cassidys and Blackbird (the other P Mac’s in Dundrum closed a bit ago), and the family resemblance was best seen through the dark spaces and drippy, red candles – it was always a spot with a nice selection of Irish craft beer, and when its closured was announced, I know I was not the only person concerned that it might be relaunched as a Fake Oirish Pub, with all macro beer and diddly-eye music for tourists, especially given its location, a short walk from St Stephen’s Green. Fortunately for us beer nerds, Caribou has us covered, with a nice selection of Irish craft beer, plus some international choices – and there are plenty of standard offerings for The Normals, too, as well as some very interesting cocktails. There is also an impressive array of alcohol-free cans and mocktails that is worth noting.

The bar at CaribouThis is no surprise, though, as the other pubs in the group have always supported independent beer; we’ve covered Bonobo before (though wouldn’t it be improved by more housing nearby, instead of a vacant site? Well, that’s another story we won’t get into here), and Impala in Cork is lovely. I have yet to make it to Kodiak in Rathmines, but I had been past the OG Caribou in Galway and knew they had a good selection as well. Rather than find a new animal, the Caribou name has been transplanted to Dublin after the closure of the Galway spot, and very pleasant it is, too.

For anyone familiar with P Mac’s and its rather cavernous feel (not a bad thing, by my reckoning), the new look and feel at Caribou is light and airy, yet in discussions with the excellent staff, they said that not much had been done to the place, structurally. The removal of a snug near the front has opened up some windows that I would never have noticed before, and the new colour palette – lots of white, faded blues and mid-century modern wood – gives it an entirely different feel. And while the old red candles are gone, they have been replaced with white pillar candles – perhaps a nod to the old space? I am obliged to credit my fellow Beer Lady Katie Malone with this idea – and it’s a good one!

In the back at Caribou - couch, table and lamp

All told, it’s not terribly dissimilar to Bonobo in ambiance, and there are still some cosier spots toward the back for a more relaxed conversation – the absence of the front snug is no cause for concern, and I say this as someone who loves a good snug. I suspect it’s a trickier balance to get right than it might appear at first glance – there’s a difference between simply throwing together some charity shop furniture and hoping it gives off hipster vibes, versus having a more intentionally-designed space and aesthetic. There is another pub I won’t mention by name that seems to have attempted a similar ‘vibe’ and missed the mark; it ends up feeling rather impersonal and slightly chaotic (though the less-than-stellar service hasn’t helped with that). A lot of the warmth and welcome at Caribou does come from the staff, so they’ve done well in that regard, and my suspicion is that this is what cements that feel of the place. Even with a brand-new (brand-new retro?) facelift, it feels authentic in a way that some pubs and bars attempting to play in this space simply do not.

And given Caribou’s location, just around the corner from St Stephen’s News – Craft Central for Those In The Know – there’s no excuse not to have some great craft beer options, and a well-trained staff who know their stuff, so it’s great to see that tradition continue in this location. The red candles may have gone, and I did very much enjoy them, but I can still go to Cassidys for that vibe, but the new chilled-out feel that Caribou brings is most welcome in this part of Dublin.

Where: Caribou, 30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2, D02 XY61
Access from the city centre: You are in it
Food: Only a drinks spot at present
Sport: Less sport, more chat
TVs: No obvious sign
Music: Bit of jazz, bit of indie
Family-friendliness: A more grown-up (or, at least, Elder Gen Z+) vibe
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Hairy Lemon, Bar Rua, The Long Hall, Grogan’s, Peter’s Pub, Sinnot’s Bar and more are all within a brief stroll – and there are many more beyond
Local sites of note: St Stephen’s Green, Gaiety Theatre, Craft Central (absolutely a landmark for the beer nerds), Little Museum of Dublin, George’s Street Arcade
Haunted: There was that definitely-real incident with the hot dog ghost
Other notes: An ideal spot for a book and a pint
Socials: Instagram